Possibly the most critical — and as often underappreciated — part of business, I believe, is the role customer service plays before, during, and long after the transaction concludes with your customers.
Our podcast interview on customer relations features Air Vent Customer Service Manager Shelly Doubet, a 43-year veteran in the art of making clients happy, who retired in February 2023. Doubet shared some of the lessons learned for successful customer service interactions based on her long career at Air Vent, which she joined three years after the company’s founding in 1976.
“Today we call it ‘customer experience’ not ‘customer service,’ so the description has changed [slightly] but not the goal,” says Doubet. “To me, customer service means from the minute you pick up the package, click on a link, or see a picture of something you like; it’s that whole interaction with that product or service start to finish.
“Forty years ago, customer service was calling a phone number and who you were talking to at that point in time. It’s so much more now. Customer service also applies internally — how we interact with each other within the company. There’s external customer service and internal customer service.”
Doubet’s observation about how customer service interactions involve anyone and everyone within the company highlights the importance of being customer-focused no matter a person’s role or title. It’s also important, Doubet explained, that businesses have systems in place that keep the customer in mind through all phases of the interaction. Bottom line: How the customer service experience plays out reflects on a company’s brand.
Representing the Company
“While the customer service department is very much the face and voice of a company to the customer, it truly has expanded beyond the customer service department in today’s digital world. So, if a business doesn’t have a website that’s current or interactive or doesn’t have the most up-to-date knowledge, that’ll be noticed by the customer,” Doubet says.
For example, she said when customers and potential customers engage with a business on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media platforms, that’s an extension of customer service.
“When the industry uses the resources provided by a business — for example, the Air Vent app or the educational seminars — that entire engagement is part of the customer service experience,” Doubet says.
It’s also potential customers, people considering doing business with a company or conducting research for a future project, like a future roof replacement.
There’s also a wide range of experience and expectations on the other end of the telephone when someone calls customer service (or emails or posts on social media). What a homeowner asks for regarding customer service differs markedly from what a roofing contractor, architect, home inspector, or vendor requests. These differences can pose challenges for businesses and their customer service operations. They have to be well-versed in the subject matter and be ready to adjust the depth of the information they provide to customers.
“There’s a piece to all of these interactions that is intuitive, but you really do have to know who you are talking to,” says Doubet. “A consumer, for example, is not generally as interested in the science and research behind an attic vent. But you can pair down the explanation to the essence of the message in those cases. Having user-friendly content in a variety of platforms also helps.”
Doubet said the very first thing a customer service representative should do is identify who they are talking to and adjust their message accordingly.
“We wear many hats here in customer service,” Doubet says. “A call to place an order is different that a warranty call, which is very different than a ‘help me vent my attic call.’ Identify who you are talking to, identify their needs, and then use the available resources to help answer the incoming question.”
Interestingly, Doubet has noticed a change in how customers think from 1979 through today.
“It used to be the consumer didn’t really care that much about the science of attic ventilation and how to keep their attic cool,” she says. “That concern was generally on the mind of the roofing professionals who contacted us. That’s no longer the case. Now, homeowners want to know more about it because they’ve researched how it impacts everything about their home and their energy usage. They want to protect their investment.”